In today’s competitive online marketplace, you need a vision of where your business is going, your goals for the future and how to get there. This is what an ecommerce marketing plan is all about, and we’re here to help you put one together that will boost sales and put you on the road to success.
Start with the simplest definition of ecommerce: services or products that are purchased on the internet, whether from SMBs or big box stores. Put aside everything you’ve learned, just for a moment, and start from scratch. With a clean slate, you can slowly add your own experience and knowledge back in as you develop a more comprehensive plan.
Regardless of whether you’re a boutique, a local plumber, Walmart or a mid-sized online retailer, every business needs a stellar ecommerce marketing plan. This blog post will outline key points of how to develop and implement such a plan, and also highlight the latest trends and topics in the world of ecommerce marketing.
But let’s start with the basics.
How to Craft an Ecommerce Marketing Plan
Crafting an effective ecommerce marketing plan is a lot like writing a business plan. There are steps to take as you map out the future of your business in a specific order. The written content and assessment of current operations will help guide you through the process of reaching your desired endgame and ensure sustained progress. The basic anatomy of a fantastic ecommerce marketing plan is as follows:
1. Core Summary
The first question to ask yourself when you’re developing an ecommerce marketing plan is: “What’s the big picture?” This summary should be no longer than approximately 250 words. A succinct word count forces you to the first step extremely focused while also inspiring a lot of thought. Seek the advice of colleagues and experts. Read other blog posts. Look up statistics relevant to your goals and industry.
The idea here is to paint a picture for yourself of what’s already out there, and then put your spin on it. If you could summarize the core and goals of your marketing plan in 250 words or less, what would it be?
2. Mission Statement
Every company has a mission statement and you undoubtedly had to write one for your original business plan. It’s a critical piece of proposing incentives or a startup plan to potential investors. Consider this marketing plan draft an opportunity to refresh your company mission statement. It should be something you can use to explain your business and its goals in any context.
What are you looking to do with your ecommerce marketing strategy? That’s the question you’ll need to answer in this section and it should be as specific as possible. Every word counts and it can be bullet-pointed. Numbers, percentages and goalposts are crucial when writing this out. Hone in on the real nitty-gritty of what you hope to get out of your fresh marketing plan.
4. Target Audience and Market
Who are you hoping to attract? There are many niche markets out there, but finding the one (or multiple ones) that you’re targeting is essential to success in your marketing plan. This section can be a combination of narrative-style description followed by research statistics and data on the markets you’re hoping to tap into. Keeping your commerce marketing plan on point with a combination of creative thought alongside facts and figures is what will make it unique.
5. Analyzing the Present
Simply stated, this section is about where you’re at as a company. What are your sales like? What is your brand identity? What are your ultimate strengths and weaknesses? These answers are a lot easier to pinpoint if you’ve been in business for a bit of time. If you’re a recent startup, on the other hand, then your assessment may be based on a much shorter timeframe.
6. Pricing Assessment
You need to determine price points and how it will impact your role as a viable competitor with your industry peers. It may be worth hiring an expert to do a study.
7. Fulfillment Plan
How do you plan to fill orders? This part is relatively straightforward, but may involve such questions as shipping rates or if free shipping is feasible. Another aspect is the process of seeing an order through from its initial creation to final shipment. This expectation varies significantly based on the type of product offered. For example, a small business specializing in handmade goods versus an online retailer selling resale products are going to have very different capabilities.
8. Measuring Success
Goalposts are key, both to monitor the success of your ecommerce marketing plan as you implement it, but also as inspiration for your colleagues. Rallying employee morale by hitting specific goals at certain times is a great way to invigorate your team.
9. Future Goals
What do you want to get out of the marketing plan after it’s run its course? An example might be to increase your sales by a certain percentage, generate a certain number of new leads or improve conversions.
How to Implement the Ecommerce Plan
Once you have a finalized document to guide your ecommerce marketing plan, you’ll need to decide how to implement the different approaches and track analytics. You can choose to execute a marketing plan in-house or with an agency.
If you implement a marketing plan in-house, the benefits are having flexibility to assess the campaign’s status at any juncture, tweaking it on the spot, a deep familiarity with your brand and a team of colleagues who know each other well. On the other hand, many times, each team member will something piecemeal to the table. Maybe one person is a pro at email marketing platforms but knows nothing about social media. Another colleague may be excellent at analytic data but not be able to design anything. There’s a lot that goes into the process.
The benefits of using an agency are that you’ve got the pros doing the job for you based on your specifications. Outside marketing agencies are not one-size-fits-all. You need to work with an agency that understands your unique needs with a price tag that fits your budget constraints. There are a lot of different plans and options out there for businesses of all sizes, so it’s best to do some research.
Weigh your options based on budget, time and whether implementing an ecommerce marketing plan is feasible in-house. For some businesses, it isn’t, and for some, it is. It’s a matter of individual needs and you’ll need to spend some time assessing what will be most effective for you.
Your Customer: The Core of Ecommerce Marketing
The television show Mad Men made the ad business sexy, but at its heart the message of individualizing the customer as a key part of a successful sales pitch is true. Back in the golden era of advertising, finding a billboard-worthy one-line zinger that stuck in people’s minds was the way to boost sales and keep them steady.
Fast forward to the 21st century where everyone is shopping online, and display ads on the internet are far more important than what’s on a billboard. However, the same principle rings true: pitching your product in a way that emphasizes customer uniqueness is what drives sales. To quote Mad Men: “No one wants to be one of 100 colors in a box.” The same is true of how you approach ecommerce using different marketing approaches and tools today.
Content marketing is still one of the most powerful methods of driving customers to your site and creating conversions. There are multiple ways to go about directing people to your content and enticing them to engage.
1. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing)
As we enter 2020, Black Hat SEO methods, such as keyword stuffing, are considered outdated and ineffective. However, today’s SEO does not rely on underhanded tactics that work to “cheat” the system. A site optimized for SEO earns its Google ranking by using a combination of authentic content with smart keyword usage that will marry customers to your products. There are different ways to approach each type of SEO or SEM approach to marketing, which includes both paid and unpaid advertising, such as pay-per-click (PPC), display ads and ad campaigns on built-in platforms such as Google Shopping or Facebook Dynamic Ads. Both SEO and SEM are reliable methods for attracting customers to your site if you prepare your content the right way.
- On-site copy: One of the oldest tricks in the book is to enrich the copy of your website with keywords that will produce better organic search results. This doesn’t mean that you should stuff a paragraph of nonsense at the bottom of each page or randomly throw in keywords in odd places, though. That’s the old type of SEO that causes sites to lose their rankings altogether and be severely penalized. The best way to introduce relevant keywords in an authentic, natural manner is to review your product copy and FAQ. Depending on how you manage your website, many CMS platforms, such as WordPress, have SEO quality analysis built into the system.
- Display ads: Display ads have been around since the dawn of the internet when businesses first started advertising, but they’ve grown much more sophisticated. Display ads are based on your search and browsing history and appear on websites and apps. This is also a form of retargeted advertising.
- PPC: Pay-per-click marketing means that your business will appear at the top of certain results in a search engine based on keywords that you choose in advance. Certain keywords are more expensive than others and you’ll “bid” on a phrase when it’s used in a search. This is keyword-based and functions through major search engines like Google and Yahoo!. If your bid is successful and the search result ends with a click to your business, you pay a certain amount of money to the publisher.
2. Blog Posts and Guest Posts
Aside from the mechanics and algorithms found in search engines, there’s also good, old-fashioned self-promotion. Writing guest blog posts for industry websites is a fantastic way to drive traffic to your website. Not only does it provide an opportunity for readers to click your link, but it also gets your name out as being an expert in your industry. Reputation building is key to customer confidence.
3. Video and Other Platforms
Using media platforms like YouTube and Vimeo to introduce your customers to video content is a good way to diversify your ecommerce marketing plan and function on different channels. Video can be a powerful medium and works great for product unveilings and other special events. Tutorials in particular are an extremely popular type of content since they provide substantial value to users.
Influencer marketing is relatively straightforward and similar to a celebrity endorsement. Influencers are social media personalities with hundreds of thousands of followers who can leverage their popularity to promote products. One key aspect of this route, though, is that many influencers have a genuine connection with their followers. They talk to them like friends and the traditional barrier between the untouchable celebrity and their fans from afar is broken down, thanks to social media. Therefore, the influencer you’re considering should be a good match for your product and will be genuinely interested in it. Most influencers will not tout a product they don’t like just to monetize their follower count.
5. Affiliate Businesses
Affiliate marketing is where another business that offers a product or service that’s complementary to yours will promote you, and vice versa. Affiliate business marketing is a form of reciprocal partnership.
6. User-Generated Content (UGC)
UGC is a form of publicity where users create content based on an advertising campaign, whether it’s taking pictures and posting them to social media or other content-generating activities. A cutting-edge example is GoPro, a company that makes high-end action cameras, that has become a leader in harnessing the potential of UGC. GoPro offers professional athletes and extreme sports participants the opportunity to stick a camera to their helmet and film, easily producing some of the best user-generated footage online. Amateur videographers also create films and upload them to social media, creating free publicity around a beautiful video clip made with a consumer-grade camera. The type of UGC that GoPro has inspired is the future of how user-generated content is harnessed in marketing plans.
7. Social Media
There are several different versions of social media marketing, including paid advertising that works on a social media site’s established advertising platform. The other is reliance on organic content that’s generated by users engaging with your brand and products or services. As sites like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, to name a few, continue to develop their shopping platforms, an increasing number of advertisers are working within those structures. This is also a more stable way to invest time and dollars into this type of ad campaign since the algorithms for these sites are constantly changing, and can even be ruinous if an algorithm shift pulls the rug out from under you. For example, when Etsy changed its algorithm to prioritize on-site search results from sellers that offered free shipping or had the most reviews, it was ruinous for smaller makers who relied on organic searches to help customers discover their wares. An algorithm change that works against you can result in a major loss of time and financial investment, which is why it can be easier to work with the systems that social media sites have put into place specifically for advertisers. This fact doesn’t mean you should discount organic content, but it definitely shouldn’t be your sole component of social media marketing.
Email marketing is one of the oldest approaches to ecommerce marketing, but it’s still a tried and true method. For one, your subscribers have to opt in to receive your content. Opting in is a valuable asset which not only allows you to engage more easily but more importantly, to tailor certain eblasts with offers or incentives to specific groups within the email list. Addressing specific market groups is essential when you’re promoting a new product since sending too many emails will cause customers to unsubscribe. This is legally binding to boot, and trying to reach out to an email contact after they’ve clicked unsubscribe can land you severe and hefty fines. In the last few years, the government has passed laws enacted to protect the privacy of consumers.
The point is: segment your list once those contacts opt-in and manage your data responsibly. It’s easy to drive customers and potential customers away with over-saturation. Take stock of lists and the behaviors of specific groups. What are their interests? What did they buy and why? How much did they spend? How you target your established customer base by using carefully segmented lists is just as important as new conversions. There are also a few different types of campaigns you can initiate with email marketing.
1. Shopping Cart Abandonment
Digital shopping carts not only allow customers to complete online purchases, but they can also act as a mechanism for shoppers to organize potential purchases on a website. Many shoppers will use online carts as a way to gather products that interest them. However, final purchases may be abandoned for many reasons. It’s possible that the customer got caught up doing something else or closed their browser by accident. On the other hand, maybe they found what they thought was a better deal elsewhere and ditched your site. Whatever the reason, it’s always worth a follow-up, especially if they’ve entered their contact information voluntarily or created an account. Offering them to pick up where they left off, whether through an email or an invitation if they re-enter your website, can be an excellent incentive for customers to keep shopping. Not having to go through the same process they already have is an enticing environment of stress-free shopping, especially if the other purchase didn’t work out.
The simpler it is to find products, whether upon first browse or a return to the site, the more likely it is that you’ll earn a sale.
2. Information-Gathering Tactics
Follow-up emails are an excellent way to engage customers by asking them to leave a review or requesting a response to a poll about the quality of their experience. These are information-gathering tactics that help you learn more about your customers, their experiences and gain their contact information if they choose to share it. Keep the conversation going even after the sale is complete.
3. Cross-selling and Upselling
The act of cross-selling is when you offer your customer a related product, whereas upselling is the attempt to sell the customer a better, more expensive product. Email campaigns are the perfect way to do this, whether it’s in a receipt after a transaction has been completed or follow-up from an abandoned shopping cart.
To create a compelling newsletter for your customers, there are a few best practice approaches of which you should be aware.
- Subject line: This is the first thing that will pop up in the customer’s inbox, whether as a desktop notification via Outlook, a new message on the Gmail app or in an open browser. It needs to be punchy and not too long, and announce why the recipient should open the message. The subject line of a newsletter is prime real estate for an opportunity to click. Although your customer may have opted into your content, you can’t get complacent. Every time you engage with your contacts, you need to work for their attention as though it were the first time.
- Content and expectations: Newsletter content should start with two basic qualities: provide what the customer is expecting and something of value. For example, if your customer signed up to be notified of secret sales, then the email you’re sending shouldn’t be about another topic. The value component should be an actionable piece, such as a promo code or link to access presale deals. This is also why segmented lists are so important.
- Design: First and foremost, your newsletter template should match your brand identity. If you’re using a specific color or font, for example, for other templates such as receipts, announcements and website, ensure that the eblast style is consistent. If you use a logo, use the logo in the eblast. The email should be highly visual. People absorb visual information more quickly than written content, so make sure to put in some stellar product photos or colorful graphics that will catch the eye. And last, but certainly not least, make sure that your newsletter eblasts have compatibility across multiple devices. If you’re using a premade template offered by your email marketing provider, today they’re designed to be compatible across desktop and mobile platforms. The importance of compatibility cannot be overstated, though, because if your customer receives an email on their Gmail app and looks unprofessional and jumbled when they open it, there’s a good chance they’ll unsubscribe.
- Personalization: This once again goes back to the importance of individualizing your customers. Personalized emails add a powerful professional touch when it appears in a recipient’s inbox. They make customers feel as if they’re being targeted in good faith with content that will genuinely interest them. Once again, if they opted in, then they’re ready to receive the content that they want, so make sure you give it to them. Another good approach is to send special birthday discount codes.
5. Reconnecting with Past Customers
Just like in old school mass mailings where there’d be so-called “lapsed” contacts, the same applies to email marketing. There is always a key segment in email lists where the customer in question hasn’t unsubscribed, but there’s been no meaningful engagement for a long time. This could mean many things and there’s no way to tell why a contact hasn’t re-engaged with your business. Emailing an invitation to reconnect and introducing the idea of customer loyalty is a great way to promote re-engagement. Make sure the content you’re sending is valuable, though. It doesn’t necessarily need to include a special promo code, but could also highlight a new collection of merchandise or advertise a single, impressive development in your business. Whatever the pitch is, make it focused and strong when attempting to re-engage lapsed contacts.
6. Promotional Campaigns
Email marketing is all about delivering content to customers that will generate conversions once they click, and promo emails are one of the best ways to do it. If you have a satisfied customer who enjoyed a product or service they purchased from you, offering them an incentive to return with a special discount code or deal is a good way to draw them back in. Once you have the foundation established of a satisfied customer, promotional emails are an effective way to begin to develop those relationships.
7. Email marketing platforms to consider:
- Constant Contact
One reason that email marketing has stood the test of time is due to the strong presence of an opt-in interaction. Unlike paid advertising where you’re looking for clicks to conversions, you already have the customer engagement covered.
Your Reputation as a Marketing Tool
Customers use the internet to comparison shop, finding the best deals with ideal conditions and weighing the products against which business is trustworthy. When it comes to the internet, an online business may have a great reputation and excellent deals, but at the end of the day, your customers are buying without seeing. The product photo can be stellar, the measurements accurate and the assembly instructions perfect. Nonetheless, there’s always a kernel of doubt until the physical object shows up. Reputation is a powerful tool that can be leveraged in marketing strategies.
1. Design that Inspires Confidence
Part of successful online sales is good design. This is 101 ecommerce basics. If your site malfunctions or doesn’t have advanced search capability, it’s going to be deemed untrustworthy. Maybe a broken link or two would’ve flown back in the early 2000s, but not now. Customers expect the same level of professionalism on a small ecommerce website that they do a big box store like Walmart or Home Depot. Is it fair and reasonable to have such high expectations for smaller businesses? The answer is that it doesn’t matter because you have to deliver at the same level. You may not even be a direct competitor for the same products, but the big guys set the bar. Your site doesn’t need every bell and whistle, though having a feature like live chat enabled is an excellent investment. The takeaway here is that your site can be minimal, but it has to look clean and function well.
2. Power of Customer Reviews
Customer loyalty is not a thing of the past despite the competitive pricing wars and shipping incentives seen in the online marketplace today. In many cases, receiving subpar merchandise with the headache that follows isn’t worth the few dollars saved. Many people are willing to pay a little bit more to ensure that their purchase goes smoothly. That doesn’t mean that researching your price points compared to your competitors isn’t necessary. In fact, having current statistics and up-to-date facts about trends in your industry is one of the building blocks to executing a successful ecommerce marketing strategy.
However, the battle is not won by the lowest price. Mistrust is sown heartily in online shopping because there are so many options, but the quality of customer service and the product are irreplaceable. Mistrust is an opportunity to beef up your ecommerce marketing plan based on critical tactics that more readily earn consumer trust by using real-life reviews.
- On-site product reviews: An on-site product review is when a customer purchases something and returns to the site to write a review of the product or service on the website of the business. This is especially useful if you’re dealing in a competitive market where you may be selling a product from the same manufacturer as another site. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, product reviews make your reputation pop.
A good example of a site that has search filters using product review star ratings is Amazon. Amazon is a unique example since today, the site is more of an online marketplace than an individual store. Nonetheless, whether customers are purchasing products directly from Amazon or if they’re going in for third-party sellers, what’s key is the fact that shoppers want to see the real-life person who took pictures of their assembly process and then gave the product a review. The more reviews, the more trustworthy the claims on a product seem if they match up.
One problem with some online retailers is the growing pains that come with establishing a solid review process for their own site. Customers are much more inclined to trust a stranger whose pictures look real than a product photo that may be a stock image used across multiple sites.
- Dedicated review websites: These are independent sites like Yelp! or Consumer Reports whose entire purpose is to act as a centralized platform of customer reviews for goods, services and everything in-between. Yelp! is very localized and is particularly helpful when researching local small businesses, medical practices or restaurants. Consumer Reviews, on the other hand, is a much larger, nationwide site that people flock to when they have something to say. The reviews on this type of website that has mass appeal tend to be strongly worded, whether for the positive or negative. This is a site that people seek out on their own proactively to leave an opinion.
Whether you’ve ever had an unflattering review left on a site like Consumer Reports or received a glowing recommendation from an on-site review, the takeaway here is to remember that customers trust other customers more than any statement the business makes. The more pictures and happy customers there are for a product, the more confidence you’ll inspire.
Take that distrust of online shopping and invest energy into building a solid online reputation backed by customer experiences. Encourage your customers to leave product reviews. Offer incentives like discounts or free shipping in exchange for leaving a certain amount of reviews. This is an integral component of a solid ecommerce marketing plan that will bring success at this point.
3. Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM)
WOMM is exactly what it sounds like: a customer satisfied with the service or products of a business touts them to their social networks and contacts. This is a powerful brand of advertising because it relies exclusively on customer trust and satisfaction, which is a much more trusted form of advertising than a paid display ad on a website. WOMM existed long before the internet, but it’s a term commonly used in ecommerce marketing today.
Customer referrals is a powerful way to generate new leads by offering incentives to a customer using a service or product to invite a friend. For example, Lyft offers free rides in return for users who share a special offer to join with friends. If a friend successfully joins, the user gets a reward. GrubHub adopts the same tactic, offering a few dollars off the customer’s next order if they successfully refer a friend to use the service. Referrals rely on a combination of customer trust and incentive. If your customer is happy enough with your business that they’re willing to refer others, even if it is based on incentive, this is a good way to build your reputation as a selling point in marketing.
Reporting Tools and Integrated Site Marketing
Once your ecommerce marketing campaign is in full swing, you’ll need to analyze analytics and data as it progresses to keep track of benchmarks, goals met and other stats. There are automated ways to do this that involve utilizing the platform of how you’re delivering information. For example, if you’re working with an advertiser’s built-in platform for their site, such as Facebook Dynamic Ads or Instagram for Business, stats will be available through their site. Email marketing tools have their own set of analytics, as do every other type of channel on which you’re operating. Your website will also have its own set of reporting tools.
Analyzing all of this data takes time, which is why it’s essential to refer back to that original ecommerce marketing plan to review your initial goals, projected mileposts and timeline. The original plan should be the measure of how successful your commerce marketing strategies are turning out and will allow you to tweak parts of the plan if need be. Since you’ll be dealing with so many sets of analytics, you have three options to break down your data.
1. Marketing Agency
If you’ve implemented your ecommerce marketing strategy using an agency, then they will be the ones responsible for collecting the data and presenting a full report to you. When you first sign a contract with an agency, there should be a breakdown of reporting timeline. Will data be presented quarterly? If so, how will the report affect potential changes to the ad campaigns? These are the questions that need to be answered before you agree to work with an agency. However, if you do decide to work with an agency, the reporting is undoubtedly much easier since you don’t have to do it yourself.
2. Analyzing Multiple Reports
Each site will offer analytics, but trying to compile all the data you receive from 10 or more different channels into one comprehensible report is not recommended. It’s overwhelming, extremely time consuming and probably a waste of effort since looking at different marketing tactics separately without comparing them is ineffective.
3. Ecommerce Reporting Tools
There are many marketing tools available online that will combine multiple dashboards and CMS stats and create in-depth reports for the user. The dashboards for all of your various sites and campaigns are integrated and reports of all different types can be easily generated. The price point on these service packages vary but are becoming more popular for ecommerce businesses engaging in revamped marketing strategies.
Time to Get to Work On Your Ecomm Plan
Creating and implementing an effective ecommerce marketing plan is all about the ability to assess your own business. What are your strengths and how can you translate them into marketing tools? What are the weaknesses that may impact marketing and ad campaigns? Self-assessment is key to developing a plan that will work for you, especially since marketing is all about selling your brand across different platforms. You need to be confident that you have a comprehensive understanding of your own brand identity as well as a clear sense of your goals. Breaking each element down into steps and listing out tangible goals with hard numbers will allow you to implement an innovative marketing strategy that works.
Take the first step by following our nine sections above about how to craft a solid ecommerce marketing plan and you’ll be well on your way to true ecommerce marketing success.